Wildcats legend Damian Martin has compared the situations of former teammate James Ennis, and incoming Next Star Alexandre Sarr.

1 Jul
By Dan Woods for

The Perth Wildcats may have acquired their first ever Next Star ahead of NBL23 in the form of French star Alexandre Sarr, but that doesn’t mean the club is bereft of experience when it comes to elevating players to the NBA level.

James Ennis arrived at the club after being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 50th overall selection in 2013.

His draft rights were immediately traded to Miami, but instead of plying his trade in the NBA Development League – now known as the G-League – Ennis elected to take his talents to Perth for the 2013-14 NBA season.

Following a title and All-NBL First Team selection in his sole season in the NBL, Ennis found his way onto the Heat’s roster – and while he currently plays in Russia, he previously made over 400 career NBA appearances, with over 140 of them coming as a part of the starting lineup.

Ennis was a dominant force in an all-conquering Wildcats team in 2014, but former teammate Damian Martin says the now 32-year-old tailored his game to appeal to NBA scouts. It's a trait he believes the league’s emerging crop of Next Stars should adopt.

“I go back to that year with James Ennis,” Martin told NBL Media. “It was probably three games into the season and it was obvious we had someone special playing for us.

“Now he had graduated college, so he had that extra four years of development than Alex (Sarr), but when James got drafted his goal was to be one year out of the NBA and then in it.

“He could have come to the NBL and completely dominated from an offensive standpoint and the box score would have looked really good – but in reality we told him that he could do that but we probably wouldn’t win as many games, or he could get a handful of assists, get other players involved, get your eight or ten rebounds a game, get some steals and use that length to show he could play defence, and showcase he’s a well-rounded player.

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In addition to an NBL title and All-NBL First Team nomination, Ennis was named Perth's 2014 club MVP over Larry Sengstock Medal winner, Jermaine Beal and Defensive Player of the Year, Damian Martin.

“He was brilliant in buying into that mindset and sacrificing from a scoring point of view for the overall good to help the team win games and then get more attention to him than just leading the scoring.”

Ennis’ exceptional output on the court – he averaged 21 points and seven rebounds per game - was no fluke. 

“What he did with Adam Tatalovich who was our assistant coach and had an NBA background – Adam knew what it would take to show the skillset that would pique the interest of NBA scouts, and their individuals after training were just incredible,” Martin said. 

“That’s why that development was fast-tracked, because of that one-on-one attention. That’s what Alex needs, that’s what all the Next Stars need.

“After training I think there’s going to be a lot of individuals, and a lot of time taken to take care of him and make sure that development is there to allow him the best opportunity to get drafted.”

With their ten NBL titles and recent record of over 30 consecutive playoff campaigns contested, it would be hard to argue there’s a club within the Australian sporting landscape with a tradition of winning so embedded into their fabric as the Perth Wildcats.

Sarr is entering the NBL straight out of the Overtime Elite Academy, a competition that is restricted to players aged 16 to 20.

The NBL will be Sarr’s first experience of an open-aged, fully professional competition.

While Martin believes it could take some time for the 18-year-old Frenchman to adapt to the level of competition, he could become a crucial cog in the side’s rotation.

“At the end of the day he’s a kid coming in to play in an adult’s league,” Martin said. “There is pressure coming into this season off the back of two seasons out of semi-final basketball, so they won’t forgo a championship just to put a player on the court.

“If someone like a [Jesse] Wagstaff can take him under his wing, not that Jesse is tall enough to actually fit him under there, then by the back end of the year he could genuinely be helping the Wildcats win games.

“I think he’s the type of guy who could fast-track Alex Sarr’s development. This guy is a veteran of the league, but from day one as a rookie he had elite daily behaviours, which is why he’s got the absolute most out of his ability.

“All those cliches about those one percenters you hear athletes speak about whether it’s extra work, visualisation, sports psychology, stretching, diet – Jesse does that every day.

“I think it’s great Perth has got a Next Star, especially someone of such a high calibre with all the projections of his future.”

Sarr is currently participating in the FIBA U19 World Cup, and is set to first suit up for the Wildcats against Tasmania on Friday, September 29.

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